Professing Education
A publication of the Society of Professors of Education
June, 2004. Vol.3 No.2


I was speaking with a friend about the outcome of the recent Presidential election and I had brought up some questions about the wisdom of that segment of the electorate that voted Bush back into office. My friend's response was rather abrupt — "what the #&*% is wisdom?" My immediate discomfort at the question led to an equally immediate response — "it's the love of philosophy, of course." He smiled a knowing smile, which is to say he knew I was avoiding the question by using reverse etymology.

But there is something to my response after all, is there not? There is the ancient connection between wisdom and philosophy. Philosophy is literally the love of wisdom. But this is hardly satisfying, and my friend's question I still believe is an important one, and no less so for us professors of education. No doubt, in these so-called postmodern times, it has become increasingly difficult to give enduring structural integrity to our definitions. Indeed, the very act of defining something is itself an act of interpretive force, and this makes any given definition somewhat shaky and contingent. So, for example, many (perhaps many who voted for Bush) when asked to define "philosophy" might respond, "it is religion, of course." And a cursory look at the philosophy sections in New Age book stores signals that they might not be far off the mark. Language is a tremendously pliable force, for better or worse.

It might just be that lots of people, feeling the pinch of trying to find some meaning in a world (a post-Nietzschean world) where all our highest values supposedly are busily devaluing themselves, are struggling with their own interpretive power, their own agency if you will. The key is that it is a felt problem, not easily explained away through acquiring some faddish epistemology — even as many turn in their struggles to new (and old) fundamentalisms. Whatever it is, I'm confident that wisdom has never meant the same thing as knowledge. At the same time, though, nor can it afford to be such a distant relative. How we come to know about things, and more importantly, what we do with our knowledge signals that wisdom might play some crucial role in helping determine how we act on our various hard-earned knowledge. Wisdom has (must have) a practical function, not necessarily to explain, but to help clarify and intelligently interpret our world and our place in it.

How we grapple with notions of wisdom will continue to be an elusive issue for us humans. But elusiveness need not be construed as a negative. We have learned from thinkers like John Dewey that our quests for epistemological certainty do not always garner untainted rewards. Indeed, elusiveness itself may very well be a necessary condition for wisdom's imaginative and hopeful potential, the very thing that keeps us energized towards possible better futures.

In this issue of Professing Education we invite our readership to a thoughtful consideration of wisdom as they read through the various contributions. Our first contribution by our Associate Editor, Dirk Windhorst, tackles the notion of wisdom head-on. In his recent trip to Yale University, he was able to interview Dr. Linda Jarvin and Dr. Jill Citron-Pousty, two research associates of Robert Sternberg, whose work at the Centre for Psychology of Abilities, Competencies, and Expertise (PACE) has been instrumental in the birth of new psychological theories about the developmental role of wisdom in our lives. Next, George Demetrion offers a contribution based on work from his new book, Conflicting Paradigms in Adult Literacy Education: In Quest of a U.S. Democratic Politics of Literacy. Exploring elements of John Dewey's theory of inquiry, especially Dewey's notion of growth, Demetrion is able to find enlivening connections to his own work in Adult Literacy. Our final two contributors offer responses to last issue's Wisniewski Lecture, "No Intro Course Left Behind?" written by Joseph Newman. First, John Carter takes his many years of experience as a teacher educator and offers suggestions for applying Newman's strategies to Foundations of Education courses. In the process, Carter proposes three novel components for augmenting Newman's own suggestions and providing some potential closure to an overly prolonged debate about Introduction to Education courses. In a comparable vein, Steve Grineski draws on his own experiences teaching Social Foundations of Education courses and extends Newman's ideas and suggestions. In particular, Grineski pays close attention to the socio-political contexts and the players therein, who quite often are most responsible for shaping policy while failing in terms of their connectedness to the day-to-day realities of the world of K-12 schooling. We close out this issue with a book review from our Co-Editor, John Novak. Here he reviews Peter Singer's book, One World: The Ethics of Globalization (Second Edition).

It is our sincerest hope that you find this issue of Professing Education provocative and engaging. We welcome comments and articles that might wish to engage/challenge the kinds of issues that have been highlighted herein.